A Broken Organisation of Broken People for a Broken World
Daniel Bourdanné served as the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students’ (IFES) General Secretary since 2007. He stepped down as the GS at the IFES World Assembly 2019, which took place in South Africa from 3 to 11 July 2019. As the outgoing GS, Daniel delivered this final address and exhortation for the future of student work at the closing session of the World Assembly.
Many of us were moved from the inspiring and challenging stories that we have heard all week of student work from all around the world. These stories have the potential to spur us onward in sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ – to move forward as messengers of hope.
After this assembly, we return to our broken world. For some of us, going back home is akin to going back to the ‘valley of dry bones’ described in the book of Ezekiel. We see the political, economic, and military might of our political leaders displayed. There are reasons to be scared because the world we live in today is full of uncertainty.
As IFES undergoes a new phase of leadership transition, our hearts may also be full of fear. There is fear of the unknown and fear for the future of IFES. Perhaps we are terrified of facing our own hearts that have known hurt, and we do not want to add more to it. Oftentimes, the biggest fear we have is not fearing our oppressor, but fearing our own heart.
We will certainly face big challenges in our ministries. In North America now, accessing campuses have become a real challenge. There is no longer freedom to have Bible studies on campuses. In other places, we are not allowed to share the good news of Jesus. There is the risk of imprisonment, even death. When I was a staffworker ministering at one point in a part of a country, there were occasions where doing ministry meant having the readiness to die.
We leave this assembly and return to face different challenges. Here is the good news for us all as God sends us back to our places: Jesus does not send us out to face our fears, nor does He send us out to face our challenges. He sends us to meet Him. Jesus is the only one who is able to overcome our fears. He is the only one that provides security to IFES – not our Constitution, not our doctrinal basis, not our ethos, and not our networks. He is the one who will provide the security for our ministry to go forward.
Jesus told his disciples that as the Father has sent him, so he is sending them with the message of hope (John 20:21). Jesus’ message to His disciples still applies to us today. His call to His disciples and to us to not be afraid and to depend on the Father’s promises is echoed throughout Scripture; the Bible is full of promises encouraging us not to be afraid.
In Exodus 15:16 (NIV), Moses and the Israelites sang, ‘Terror and dread will fall on [Canaan]. By the power of your arm, they will be as still as a stone – until your people pass by, oh Lord, until the people you bought pass by.’ The confidence of the Israelites in the Lord is a sign to us. It is as if God is telling IFES: ‘Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name. You are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you and when you go through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scarred. The flames will not set you ablaze.’
The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke recorded the time Jesus calmed a storm. One day Jesus said to his disciples ‘Let us cross to the other side of the lake.’ So, they got into a boat and set out. As they sailed, Jesus fell asleep. Then, a squall came down upon the lake so that the boat was swamped by the waves. The disciples were in great danger, and they went and woke Jesus saying, ‘Master! Master! We are perishing!’ Then Jesus got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters, which immediately subsided.
It is interesting to observe that this situation preluded a more challenging encounter on the other side of the lake. There, Jesus encountered a demon-possessed person. It was a strong spiritual battle.
Brothers and sisters, likewise, every transition in the Christian world is a spiritual battle. If we miss this point, we fail in not understanding it clearly. Like the disciples, we get lost in our human and rational logic. As children of the Enlightenment, our intellect often becomes an idol, thus causing us to miss God’s reality.
We need to trust Jesus and not be afraid. Jesus rebuked the wind. Is it rational for someone to rebuke the wind? Is it not foolish? But this is exactly what Jesus did. He was preparing the disciples for a tougher experience on the other side of the lake. After they crossed the lake, they faced a man possessed with demons but Jesus casted the demons out.
As we go back to our respective places and individual contexts, I would like to take this opportunity to remind us of this reality. We had a fantastic time here at the World Assembly. Perhaps it can be compared to Jesus calming the storm: rebuking the wind victoriously. That first victory has a purpose. It helps us to cross the distance, in preparation for the demons and strongmen we face on the other side.
However, do not just look at the strongmen lurking without! They may be within. The strongman may be our selfishness, our lack of obedience to God. He may be our fear of the future. He may be our desire to control everything, just like Adam who wanted to be like God and have absolute control, as recounted in Genesis 3.
The Lord is inviting us to be ready because demons and strongmen are waiting outside. As we go out, we need to be ready to face them. Yet, do not look too far away. Look also into our hearts. What things are our hearts full of? Are we carrying holiness in our hearts? It is important for us to be aware of this.
I would like to end by suggesting that God is not sending strong people nor a strong organization into the world. Instead, we are a broken people. IFES, an organisation spread across 170 countries, is also a broken organisation. God is not sending well-positioned people, but broken people and a broken organisation to serve in a broken world.
We should remember that the work of salvation is carried out through vulnerability. God’s vulnerability. God sent Himself. He offered Himself to vulnerability, to die on the cross. We cannot carry the message of God from a position of strength, power, or control. If we have to be messengers of God’s hope, we need to start from a posture of vulnerability. We go out as vulnerable people and in fact, this helps us to better understand our broken world.
If we do not go through brokenness and vulnerability ourselves, it will be difficult to minister to a broken world because we cannot understand them. This is why incarnation is a very strong theological posture – the Son of God came and lived among us. He did it and made himself vulnerable in order to understand us.
So, we are going into the world from a position of vulnerability. We should not play power games. In fact, stop doing so! We should be willing to be vulnerable, so that we can understand our mission to vulnerable people. This is the embodiment of the principle of vulnerability revealed and demonstrated by Jesus through his life.
IFES is a broken and vulnerable movement, driven by ordinary students, guided by ordinary staff workers. IFES has never been a successful financial organisation. We should maintain that level of vulnerability, because it should be our identity. Brothers and sisters, if we start playing power games, that will be the end of IFES.
We can easily be destroyed by our success. Perhaps God is cautioning us against taking glory for ourselves over what we see as success. When I travel and mention the name of IFES, people are in admiration and become excited, and it is easy to bask in that glory.
Brothers and sisters, if we do not take the posture of vulnerability, unity among us is impossible. Let us leave this place not as conquerors parading our power. Instead, let us leave this place, invited by Christ to gradually or even painfully develop the courage to be weak. Yes, the courage not only to be weak, but to be ready even to die at the hands of our opponents, who rule the world with their muscles, with military and economic power, or with the power of technology.
We are invited to oppose them with ‘weakness’. And that is patience. That is truth. That is love. That is service. That is modesty. That is respect. We are encouraged to return home not with a triumphalist gospel, the likes broadcasted by super apostles, super spirituals, super theologians, or super pastors.
We are invited to return to our places, to preach the good news of Jesus through our attitude of brokenness. We are invited to return, having the same assurance that the Lord gave to the Apostle Paul: ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ (2 Cor. 12:9, NIV).
Vulnerable people, broken people, broken organization; go and serve the broken world! Go in peace in the Lord, in this mission of vulnerability!
By: Daniel Bourdanne
IFES General Secretary (2007-2019)